How Latina entrepreneur Yaslyn Lora found her purpose through her small business, Lula’s Empanadas

The time period during and after obtaining a higher education degree can be difficult for many.

With thoughts of uncertainty and skepticism about the path ahead, it can be difficult to figure out what your next chapter in life might look like.

This was the situation Yaslyn Lora found herself in a few years ago.

As she finished her final year as an undergraduate communications major at Rider University, Lora felt like she was going through a midlife crisis.

Unsure of what she was going to do next, she eventually stumbled upon the broad field of public health.

“With public health, I saw the opportunity to give back to the town where I come from,” Lora, a native of Paterson, New Jersey, said in an interview with AL DÍA.

However, pursuing her Masters in Public Health at Temple University proved to be a difficult time for her.

“I remember going through a very dark phase,” Lora said. “I was depressed.”

She often struggled to get out of bed or get ready to go out, feeling the pressure of being an only child and the first in the family to go to college.

There were several times when Lora cried, seeking solace from her mother and close friends. She didn’t really know what her purpose was.

“I wanted to know my purpose in life, and I just didn’t,” she said. “I felt like I liked public health, I like communication. But there was just a part of me that wasn’t complete.

During one of her internships at the time, Lora often brought different types of food to the office.

It was her consultant who pointed out to Lora that she likes to cook.

Dating back to her undergrad days, she and her sorority sisters would host fundraising events, where she was often the person in charge of the kitchen, empanadas being her most popular dish – in particular, chicken empanadas buffalo.

After thinking about it, Lora came to a profound realization.

“Even throughout my funk in my apartment in Philadelphia, whenever I was cooking or in the kitchen, that’s when I felt most alive,” she said. declared.

From there, her consultant suggested she rent an Airbnb and host small dinner parties with close friends and colleagues, and provide samples of a few select empanada flavors and sell them.

This then became a catalyst for the launch of Lora’s small business, Lula’s Empanadas, which started in December 2019.

Thanks to her newfound entrepreneurial spirit, Lora was able to find the purpose she was missing.

However, Lula’s Empanadas does more than sell empanadas, and Lora’s roots and history with food go far beyond her small business.

As far back as she can remember, Lora has always seen her mother cook. And as she grew, she was always around the stove to help.

“She taught me how to cook, how to cut vegetables, I would always crush with the mortar and pound the garlic and salt, making homemade spices,” Lora recalls.

Lora’s mother learned all her cooking skills from her mother, who raised 11 children on her own.

Lora’s grandmother would spend entire days picking coffee and milking several liters of milk a day, before coming home and making homemade ice cream.

“She made herself known throughout her city [in the Dominican Republic]and even other cities too,” Lora said.

People from all over town often lined up outside her house for her homemade treats, which later led her to open a convenience store. To keep things running, her kids helped run the store while she picked up ingredients.

Looking back, Lora’s mother, aunts and uncles believe that if their mother had received some guidance that helped her capitalize on the entrepreneurial spirit she had within her, they could have been part of the the most famous families of the Dominican Republic.

“She just did it as a means of survival,” Lora said of her grandmother’s entrepreneurial spirit, noting that some of her aunts and uncles are also entrepreneurs in their own right.

“So it was already in me since I was young,” she added. “I’m blessed and very lucky to have been able to see this grow.”

This entrepreneurial spirit is rooted in the family and has been passed down from generation to generation.

Throughout her life, food has been a way to bring Lora’s family together.

With her small business, Lula’s Empanadas, she is able to honor those family members who have been most influential to her.

“The name and logo are both representations of my parents,” Lora said.

Growing up, her father would often say, “I have long legs like a flamingo,” she said.

Her father has been instrumental in the woman Lora has become, always allowing her to be unafraid to be herself and do what she thinks is right for her.

“He was like, ‘you just stand out…’ and I wanted a logo that would stand out,” Lora added, referring to the logo of a flamingo as part of the company’s branding.

“Lula” is her mother’s nickname – short for Lourdes – given to her as a child by her own mother.

“I pay homage to my mother’s teachings and upbringing by naming our company Lula, because she was definitely the one who taught me the basics of cooking and I just followed,” notes Lora.

Whenever the logo is seen or the name of his company is heard, it serves as a connection to his parents and family.

As someone who has had a connection with food for most of her life, Lora has learned a lot about it.

Food goes far beyond the typical concepts of nutrition and food necessary for sustenance.

Professionally, now as a small business owner, food has been a way for Lora to fuse different cultures.

Empanadas are a common and immensely popular dish in Dominican culture. However, through her cooking, Lora wishes to use different recipes and ingredients to bring together the different cultures that make up the United States.

“I want to spread Dominican culture, but it’s better when you mix different cultures,” she said.

She uses flavors like buffalo chicken, Cajun shrimp, scallions and cheese, and Indian curry empanadas as key examples of these.

“Everyone wants to have buffalo wings at their Super Bowl rallies. The Cajun shrimp reminds me of New Orleans, the scallions and different cheese blends remind me of Asian culture and the heavy use of scallions in their dishes,” Lora said.

Through her various recipes, Lora makes her goal clear: “To be able to bridge these cultures and embrace our spice differences in a flavorful and not too overwhelming way,” she said.

Other flavors include savory options like Thai Sweet Chili Chicken, Cheeseburger, BBQ Pulled Beef, Veggie Teriyaki, and sweet options like Guava and Cinnamon Apple.

“I want it to be fun,” Lora said.

“Empanadas are like a representation of who I am…the flavors and just being bold and being able to think outside the box and try new things,” she added.

Currently, Lora’s small business operates primarily at events in New Jersey and the tri-state area, and through catering orders.

His dream is to develop the company into a cart, then a food truck.

“We’re so excited to see what the future holds,” Lora said.

However, Lula’s Empanadas does more than just sell Dominican-style pastries, because Lora believes her purpose is much more important than that.

Lora’s goal is to create Lula’s Foundation, a nonprofit wing of her small business specifically designed to provide mentorship to young women between the ages of 17 and 22 – “that crucial time when they graduate from high school. secondary,” she said.

As a first-generation and also a first-generation Dominican-American student, Lora remembers needing that guidance and mentorship after graduating from high school that she didn’t find until the end of the school year. university.

“Whether they want to pursue a professional career or start their own business or even post-secondary education, that’s something I want to guide them,” Lora said.

Through this concept, it gave way to the hashtag, #MoreThanEmpanadas.

“It’s crucial for our trip,” added Lora.

“We want to be able to say we’re helping our community, we want to be able to say we’re helping the development of young girls…young adults transitioning through life.

When she reflects on her own journey, coming from an unfavorable environment, Lora cannot help but think of those who belong to similar communities, but who were not lucky enough to have the same parents and same opportunities she had.

Therefore, she is determined to provide opportunities for those who do not have the same level of access.

For Lora, it’s about playing her part in helping the younger generation.

“The younger generation is our future,” she said. “They are the ones who will lead one day when I am much older.”

The goal is to guide them, and then see the ripple effect it can have on others, the community, and future generations.

Her work is connected to Lora’s passions and taps into her purpose in life – to combine cooking, communications and public health.

“It encompasses everything I believe in,” Lora said.

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